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Hockey

Irish take 10-game unbeaten streak to New Hampshire

| Friday, January 22, 2016

Looking to extend the nation’s longest unbeaten streak, the Irish will hit the road this weekend to take on Hockey East foe New Hampshire.

No. 13 Notre Dame (12-4-7, 8-1-2 Hockey East) currently stands in third place in the conference and has not lost over its last 10 games (7-0-3). However, the Irish have never won at New Hampshire’s home rink, Whittemore Center, which will pose a new challenge for Notre Dame with its larger Olympic-sized sheet of ice.

According to Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, the larger ice surface has changed how Notre Dame has prepared this week for the Wildcats (8-10-4, 2-4-4).

“[The big sheet] impacts the game probably more on special teams than on any other area just because of the additional space, but you can also get mesmerized by the additional ten feet outside the dots,” Jackson said. “If you play outside the dots offensively, you’re gonna have a hard time scoring, and the same thing applies if you get stretched outside the dots a lot, then you can be picked apart a bit. You have to play the game the same, you just have to be conscious of the additional width.

“The additional space gives you comfort because you have more time, so it’s nice to have more time so you just kinda gravitate toward the outside ice. You just have to get guys to the net and you have to get pucks to the net. Sometimes you’re at different angles because of the additional width, so you have to make sure you’re getting the puck on net too.”

Sophomore center Jake Evans echoed the sentiments of his coach, saying the additional width of the ice could make things difficult for the Irish.

“We’ve been practicing on the Olympic rink this whole week, kinda getting adjusted to the bigger rink and the bigger ice,” Evans said. “I think the guys are pretty focused so far, so I think we’re well prepared. Coach was emphasizing that we have to stay between the dots, and that there’s kind of a box around the net that we have to get to, and that’s the area that we really have to win.

“Teams get mesmerized outside the dots, and you’re not really gonna score very many goals from out there, so we really have to focus on getting to the net and getting shots there.”

Sophomore center Jake Evans looks to pass the puck during Notre Dame’s 5-1 victory over UMass at Compton Family Ice Arena.Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer

Sophomore center Jake Evans looks to pass the puck during Notre Dame’s 5-1 victory over UMass at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Other than the Olympic-sized rink, both Jackson and Evans said faceoffs have been vital for the Irish over the course their recent unbeaten streak.

“[Faceoffs] have improved,” Jackson said. “Some of it has to do with your matchups too. It’s hard to say because the matchups change every game. It varies from week to week, and fortunately we track our success rates from previous times of playing opponents if they’re returning guys. We have some idea what the better matchups are, faceoff-wise, but it’s still always a bit of a crapshoot, especially when you’re on the road because you don’t have the last change.”

“I think the biggest thing [on faceoffs] is just the intensity,” Evans said, “Going at every draw thinking you’re not going to lose this one, focusing on what the other guy has been doing all game. Really getting low is a big thing for me. Intensity is a really big part of it for me for sure. Sometimes I’ll lose a couple in a row because of my intensity.”

After this weekend’s pair of games against New Hampshire, Notre Dame only has one month left on its regular season schedule before the beginning of the Hockey East tournament.

“Coach has been talking about not getting too loose or too cocky,” Evans said. “We have to stay on an even pace. I mean, we have to be proud of what we’ve done so far, but we can’t let up. The most important hockey is coming up at the end of the year, and we have to keep riding this but not let our highs get too high.”

The Irish face the Wildcats on Friday and Saturday in Durham, New Hampshire, before returning home for a game against No. 4 Boston College next Friday.

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